A short and spoiler free story snippet from The Best Thing I Never Had…
Johnny was being uncharacteristically firm. He folded his arms across his chest to emphasise his resolve.
“It’s not going to happen,” he repeated for the third time. “No way, no how.”
Adam clapped him on the shoulder, grinning. “Come on mate, don’t be a sore loser!”
“Who’s being a sore loser?” Miles called as he made his way up the stairs from street level, the flimsy plastic carrier bags he held strained thin by the weight of the cans of Carlsberg he’d been sent out to fetch from the corner shop.
“Johnny,” Adam answered; Johnny just rolled his eyes and held his crossed arms tighter. “He lost a bet.”
“A bet?” Miles raised his eyebrows as he dropped the bags of lager to the floor and began extricating himself from his winter coat. “What sort of a bet?”
“A stupid one!” Johnny replied, unfolding his arms and fishing out cans from the plastic bags; they were chilled enough to drink already, thanks to their trip up the wintery high street.
“And he lost fair and square?” Miles asked Adam.
Adam smirked. “Completely.”
“And what’s he gotta do?”
Adam’s smirk grew wider. “We didn’t agree in advance.”
“Ho ho!” Miles laughed, cracking the ringpull on a can as he turned to Johnny. “Rookie mistake, real rookie mistake. What were you thinking?” Johnny just shot him another sulky look.
“He was thinking how he was sure to win, and of all the stupid things he could get me to do when I lost, I reckon!” Adam crowed. “But it didn’t quite work out like that, did it, Jonathan?” Johnny lobbed Adam’s can of Carlsberg at him a little harder than was necessary. It bounced off Adam’s collarbone and he fumbled to catch it. “Ow!” he complained, but the grin was still full on his face.
“So.” Miles threw himself down on the larger of the two couches and swallowed deeply from his can. “What are we thinking?”
Adam sat too, with one leg folded up beneath him. He pretended to ponder the question, holding his index finger to his chin as he considered his reply. Johnny slumped onto the opposite couch, apparently reconciled with the fact he was going to have to do the forfeit.
“I’m thinking… streaking,” Adam finally announced. Miles snorted and had his mobile phone out of his pocket in a flash, drafting up a message to Nicky.
“Oh, yes!” he laughed as he typed with his thumb. “That seems like a fair enough forfeit. I’ll get the girls on the go.”
“Not going to happen!” Johnny reiterated stubbornly. “That out there? That’s freaking January.”
“So?” Adam said, dismissively.
“So! So my personality –“ Johnny gestured meaningfully towards his crotch – “won’t be quite as… winning as usual.” Adam and Miles cracked up, rolling into one another on the couch, Miles spilling beer all over the leather in his hysterics.
“Oh yes,” Adam said, straightening up and blinking laughter tears out of his eyes. “Definitely streaking.”
“Definitely,” Miles agreed, pointing to Johnny’s barely touched Carlsberg. “You’d better drink up, get your beer jacket on, boy!”
“No, because I’m not doing it!” Johnny took a hefty swig of lager despite his protestations.
“Yes, you are,” Adam told him calmly.
“No, I’m bloody well not!”
“I didn’t realise you were such a chicken,” Miles said, shaking his head with exaggerated disappointment.
Johnny shot him a reproachful look. “You think that’s gonna work on me? I ain’t Marty McFly, mate.”
“Oh, come on!” Adam wheedled. “You know you’re going to do it eventually. The longer you moan, the longer you’re giving me to come up with something worse!”
“I can’t picture much worse!” Johnny retorted. “Running around in public, in the winter, with my bits dangling every which way, and in front of Leigha – in front of all the girls!”
“In front of anyone on the high street,” Adam clarified.
Johnny’s eyes grew large. “What!?”
Adam shrugged. “I told you mate, let’s just get it over with. See, now, you could have done it by now, but instead you gave me the time to decide it should be up and down the high street.”
“Between the two bus stops would be good,” Miles added thoughtfully.
“That’s bloody miles!” Johnny protested immediately.
Adam rolled his eyes. “Of course it isn’t, don’t exaggerate. Are we doing this, or what?”
“No! We are not doing this! I literally have run out of ways to tell you that I am not doing this!” Johnny insisted. “Sorry to disappoint, lads, but Darth Vader is staying inside the Death Star tonight.”
Miles shuddered dramatically. “What a gross analogy.” The flash-and-vibrate of his mobile phone drew his attention; he skim-read the message quickly before breaking into a grin. “Nicky says all the girls are getting their coats on now. Leigha is apparently particularly looking forward to it.”
Johnny shot Miles an evil look over the top of his can of Carlsberg. “What do you mean, Leigha is particularly looking forward to it?” he asked, slowly.
Miles shrugged. “Exactly that. Look at the message yourself.” He tossed his mobile phone the short distance between the couches; Johnny read Nicky’s text, his jaw clenching tighter with each word.
“See, you can’t let the girls down,” Adam said, cheerfully. “If you run fast enough, it will be over in like, a minute…”
“I say he runs up and then back down again,” Miles interrupted.
“A couple of minutes,” Adam corrected himself.
Johnny groaned. “Please don’t make me…”
“Sorry mate!” Adam got to his feet and stretched out his legs. “But this is bigger than you and me now. The girls’ll be here in a few minutes.”
“I can’t do this…” Johnny continued to whine.
“Course you can. Man up!” Adam grinned at his choice of words and wandered into the kitchen. Johnny heard the metallic thunk as Adam’s empty can of Carlsberg met the rest of the recycling box. “Hey,” Adam called back after a moment. “Do we not have any ketchup?”
“No, we’re out,” Miles answered.
“Why are you asking about ketchup?” Johnny asked immediately, his suspicions aroused. Adam popped his head back into the lounge, waving a bottle of brown sauce.
“I’m still adding conditions!” Adam laughed. “I warned you!”
“You’d better get resigned to this, or you’ll be on the quarter past train into London totally starkers next,” Miles grinned. “But that’ll teach you to take a bet without deciding on the forfeit in advance.”
“That’ll teach you for going in for a totally unwinnable bet!” Adam added.
“I still don’t understand!” Johnny ran his hands through his hair. “You must have cheated. I don’t understand how you won.”
“Never you mind about how I won, all that matters is I did,” Adam said, shaking the gloopy sauce loose from the sides of its bottle. “Now come on, off with the jumper. Let’s get you all prepped.”
“You saucy minx!” Miles guffawed, earning himself an amused groan from Adam and a miserable one from Johnny.
Johnny felt absolutely ridiculous, standing near the western-most bus stop wearing nothing but his Reeboks, his terrycloth dressing gown and a scowl. Oh, and half a bottle of brown sauce, drying tacky and itchy on his bare skin.
“Will you cut that out!?” he snapped at Sukie, standing nearby taking endless pictures of him with her new mobile phone.
“Sorry, the flash keeps not working!” she answered.
“I think we’re about to get all the flash we want!” Adam bellowed, to general amusement.
“Look mate,” Miles said to Johnny, sympathetically, “you’ve got to do this now, you know that.”
“I know,” Johnny agreed, miserably.
“So you might as well own it. Just go for it!”
“Easy for you to say,” Johnny grumbled, but he couldn’t fault the wisdom in the sentiment. He’d made this bed – he might as well jump up and down on it. With a deep sigh he reached for the knotted belt of his robe. Leigha skipped forward to take the dressing gown out of his hands, folding it neatly between her arms. Fair play to her, she kept his eye contact and didn’t glance down south.
She winked at him. “Good luck!”
“Have fun!” Nicky called out from behind her camera.
“Run, Forrest, run!” Harriet joked.
“Get on with it!” Adam yelled.
And so Johnny did.
He’d heard people say that nudists like their lifestyle because it felt free. Johnny didn’t feel very free as he pounded the pavement past the fish and chip shop – probably something to do with the way he was trying to run as fast as he possibly could whilst keeping his chap as concealed between his thighs as possible; it wasn’t exactly a natural gait.
Sooner than he’d dared to hope, the eastern-most bus stop loomed into view. The cheers of his friends plus the small audience that had understandably amassed were faded and indistinct at this distance down the road.
This isn’t so bad, Johnny thought. His weird manner of running was so exerting that he was even sweating a bit, so the cold wasn’t proving a bother. He even had a bit of a smile on his face as he began to round the bus stop in preparation for his return leg. But then he realised, with rising dismay, running forwards into the crowd of people wasn’t going to be quite the same as running away from them had been.
He sighed. Own it, Miles had said? Alright then.
Giving out a whoop, Johnny dropped his peculiar posture and just legged it down the road, free and easy. The cheers of his audience rose. Leigha was already in view, obvious in her dark red winter coat, eyes fond and mouth laughing as she clapped her gloved hands together in amusement.
As Johnny reached the final few feet and raced past the spectators he whooped again and slapped a drumming rhythm onto each arse cheek with a palm; the crowd loved it. Johnny slowed down to veer around the original bus stop before coming to a stop, panting slightly, resting his hands on his hips.
Adam tossed him his dressing gown with a smile.
“Props to you, mate!” he told him. “What a legend.”
“Totally,” Miles agreed. “What are you like!”
Johnny shrugged as he drew his dressing gown back on over his now-chilled bare body, as if it had been no biggie.
“How on earth did this come about again?” Harriet asked, laughing.
“I lost a bet,” Johnny told her.
“What was the bet?” Leigha asked.
“It was a card game,” Adam said.
“What sort of a card game?” Leigha pushed.
Adam scratched the nape of his neck awkwardly. “I bet Johnny that I could guess his card. You must know the one, yeah? Pick a card, any card? That one?”
“What, and then you break the deck and he puts it back in but you find it again?” asked Nicky, voice incredulous. “That old trick?”
“Johnny, tell me you knew how easy that was for Adam to do!” Leigha laughed. “That’s a kids’ game.”
“Well I certainly never saw it before!” Johnny insisted. “I don’t even know how he did it. It was proper weird!”
“He just remembered what the card before it was, you eejit!” Sukie mocked. “The card where the break was. When that one turned up he knew the next one was going to be your card. Seriously, Ley is right, children pull that sort of shit on one another.”
“Yeah, only because no adult would be so stupid!” Adam agreed, laughing. “Ah mate, you’re priceless.”
“Oh, bugger off, the lot of you!” Johnny growled, trying to make as dignified an exit as possible under the circumstances, the end of his robe flapping around his bare knees. The sound of his friends’ teasing laughter followed him as he stormed off back towards the flat.
“Ah, Johnny, Johnny!” Sukie called after him. “I’ve got a bet for you, yeah? It’s a coin game. Heads I win, Tails you lose!”